so you want to stand out at a marketing conference?

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Labor Day has come and gone, the weather is cooling down and the leaves are changing.  Autumn is almost here.  For folks in the marketing and advertising fields this time of year also signifies the ramping up for conference season.

Shop.org. iMedia.  These are just a couple that already took place earlier this month.  And then you have all of the upcoming summits and forums: MIMA, WOMMA, MMA, Forrester, just to name a few.  Plus if you personally know anyone who works in the field, or follow any kind of marketer, advertiser, or agency through social media, or just keep up through any marketing related blogs or trade publications, I bet you saw folks pandering for votes on SXSW’s panel picker over the last several weeks.

Recently I was invited to help evaluate potential panels and presentations for one of the more notable annual conferences that is targeted at the people in the creative and technology fields.  I’ll be honest, as someone who has both attended and presented at conferences I have to say I go back and forth on the merits of the events.  There are some really quality ones out there and there are some that are not worth going to even when they are free of charge.  Given an affinity for this particular event and the opportunity to get a behind-the-scenes peek at how the process works, I jumped at the chance participate and weigh in with my point-of-view.

After having read through dozens and dozens of marketing and advertising related proposals, I started to notice how certain things stood out.  First and foremost, it became clear to me that there were clear divisions amongst the types of proposals that had been submitted.  I started to place them into different camps; you had presentations ideas that:

  • … were thinly veiled sales pitches for a firm or company.
  • … were from people who had absolutely no clue what they were talking about.
  • … were written by people that have no grasp of grammar or the English language (and no, I am not picking on people who speak English as a second language – I’m talking about native speakers here).
  • … were proposed by the people who make their way around the professional conference speaking circuit (or those people that aspire to do so but aren’t quite there yet).
  • … were made up solely of buzz words and jargon, but you actually have no idea what was being proposed.
  •  …were submitted by smart people who are long winded and have a hard time being succinct.
  • … were actually promising but needed some fine tuning.
  • … were rock solid.

Secondly, several themes begin to emerge to me while reading the submissions.  (And while most of them aren’t the most positive, there are things to take away from these, particularly if and when I next consider throwing my hat into the ring for a conference or forum.)  Here were the themes that continuously popped up in my head while going through the evaluation process:

  • You may think you’re proposal is completely unique, but you are wrong.  (And don’t argue with me; I could show you handfuls of other proposals that say otherwise.)
  • If you don’t spend more than 10 minutes actually composing your proposal, it shows.
  • If your presentation is actually just a glorified sales pitch for your company or agency, then it really does come across that way.
  • We don’t need any more presentations that use every marketing or technology buzz word in the books.  Ditto for generic presentations on the topic of social media.
  • If you work for an agency and pitch a proposal, then the bar is automatically raised for your submission.  Why?  Because it seemed like 80% of the proposals I read came from agencies.  And a large percentage of those all sounded the same.
  • If you want to stand above the fray, even slightly, have a nice breadth and depth of speakers on your panel.  It’s about the content and the variety of people behind the content.
  • Yet if you are going to propose a panel that just features one presenter, then you better have the chops to back up being up there solo.  And furthermore, you better have a legit and noteworthy case study behind you.  We don’t need more theoretical examples that are only academic in nature.

So there you have it, the compiled themes from my short tenure as a panel evaluator.  It’s not quite a Letterman top ten list but I think they are lessons to be learned, especially if you want to stand out from the sea of sameness that is pervasive among the litany of proposals that get submitted to marketing conferences.

(photo courtesy of Creative Commons license: papalars.)

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One thought on “so you want to stand out at a marketing conference?

  1. "It???s about the content and the variety of people behind the content."Great point. I think I’d probably start thinking through a proposal with this question: "what kind of panel would I not only enjoy but get lots of value from listening to?"

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